Binary Domain is a new third-person shooter from Sega. Despite the lackluster name, bland box art, and zero marketing; it’s a fine Japanese take on the Western third-person shooter model. The main campaign is a single player only affair. You’ll control a squad of AI teammates through the game’s innovative, yet seriously flawed, voice command system.
If you want to skip ahead to the Co-Op section demarcated by the triple asterisks (page 2), be my guest. Fair warning, there’s not a lot to it.
Set several decades in the future, players take on the roll of Dan Marshall, a member of an international “Rust Crew” dedicated to enforcing the rules of robotics as laid out by the new Geneva Code. We’re not made privy to many rules of the new treaty, but we do know making robots that can pass as humans, walking abominations called Hollow Children, is generally frowned upon. The game begins with an incident on American soil involving one of these flesh-covered mechanical monsters. Unsurprisingly, future USA doesn’t take $#! from anyone. Cue the insertion of the a multinational Rust Crew into the sovereign nation of Japan! Naturally, the Japanese government doesn’t approve of interlopers on their native soil, so they immediately sick their army of various kill-bots on our intrepid crew.
Binary Domain’s story is better than the usual science fiction throw-away scribblings that often drive today’s games . Yes, it is predictable at times, and anyone familiar with Philip K. Dick won’t be overly impressed, but it’s a fun ride. It’s too bad the entertaining plot is populated by a bunch of stereotypical meatheads. The story would be much more compelling if Dan and his moronic partner, Bo, weren’t so crass and immature. They refer to the aloof Chinese female sniper (complete with boob armor) as a “rice farmer” and resort to imbecilic name-calling with the British team, who are jerks themselves. Add a pompous French robot (who wears a very flamboyant red bandanna) and you have all the makings of a dim-witted low-grade sketch comedy show. Despite these clowns, Binary Domain impressively manages to tell a fairly compelling science fiction story.
Enough plot gravy, on to the meaty gameplay!
The core gameplay, heck, almost the entire control scheme, will be familiar to anyone who has played Gears of War. Dan and the rest of the Rust Crew march through Tokyo leaving demolished robot carcasses in their wake. The competent third-person shooting stumbles at times with a somewhat finicky cover system. I occasionally took (or broke) cover when I didn’t want to, but overall it’s entirely serviceable. You can upgrade your team’s weapons and skills at vending machines located throughout future Tokyo via credits earned in combat. The more bots you shoot, the more credits you get. These upgrades can include things like health or defense boosts, increased firepower, or better reload speed. The shooting mechanics are solid, but for the most part weapon variety will leave you wanting more.
Fact: Like ketchup, mini-guns make everything better.
Visually, the game looks better than average. Some of the robot models are quite nice, if a bit repetitive. Environments are varied as you travel from the slums of old flooded Tokyo to the bustling city skyscrapers. The sound design is okay, but you’ll be inundated with your AI team’s verbal prompts. I’ll get to the hellish voice commands in a bit. (foreshadowing!)
Binary Domain’s efforts to distinguish itself as a franchise make up both its most compelling gameplay as well as its greatest failure. One of the best features are the enemies themselves. There are a variety of robots and they each experience progressive damage as you blast away at their metal bodies. Cut a bot’s legs out from under it with a light machine gun and finish it off as it crawls towards you using only its arms. If you blow off a robot’s gun hand it will retrieve the weapon with its good limb and continue the fight. Take off a robot’s head and it will turn on its allies. Scoring a few key head shots can quickly change the flow of battle.
The worst, and dare I say broken, feature of the game is the voice control. It’s an unresponsive, inaccurate, rage-inducing exercise in madness. The voice commands made me want to punch a puppy. I felt like an insane parrot afflicted with both Asperger’s and Tourette’s. I would repeat commands ad nausem as my team asked me over and over again what I meant. When they finally understood they would respond, and then keep issuing the same verbal response for the duration of the fight.